“Coach John Chmara, sitting at his office desk in the Beaver athletic department Friday, awaiting his troops to file in for a short final drill outdoors yesterday, appeared as unruffled and as calm as a breeze on a peaceful Pacific isle,” Stubby Currence wrote in an Nov. 22, 1975 article about the West Virginia state high school football championship game that was to be played at Mitchell Stadium that day. “That, despite the fact that the entire school, other than the athletes, appeared in complete chaos.”
The Bluefield Beavers would go on to win their fifth state football championship, defeating the favorited South Charleston Black Eagles by 20-7.
A major contributor towards the win was Don Jackson, a Beaver halfback who scored the first touchdown of that day’s game. He would later receive the 1975-1976 Stubby Currence Award.
Don Jackson kindly shared his story from that era.
By Don Jackson
Throughout the region Stubby Currence covered, southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia, most of the high schools bear the name of the town. Accordingly, the community of Bluefield closely identified with Bluefield High School athletics, similar to thousands of small cities and towns across America where local pride is measured against neighboring communities largely by its win-loss record.
In Bluefield, this was particularly true of football. Coach Merrill Gainer came to Bluefield in 1959 and proceeded to win four state championships from 1959 to 1967 with an overall record of 87-6-1.
His assistant and my eventual coach, John Chmara, took over the program in 1968. The 1968 team finished 9-0 but did not win the state championship since Bluefield ended the regular season ranked #3 in the state and only the top 2 teams made the postseason in those days.
Although Coach Chmara did not replicate the record of Coach Gainer, his 1969-1972 teams averaged 8 wins per season and Bluefield made the playoffs in 1972 when the postseason was expanded to the top 4 teams. The 1972 team lost the semifinal playoff game in overtime by 2 points but the bulk of the players were returning for the 1973 season, my first year as a sophomore at Bluefield High.
With lofty expectations, the 1973 team started the year 5-0 and then unexpectedly stumbled the second half of the season to finish with a 6-4 record including 3 straight losses to end the season. The 1973 team was loaded with seniors, and we sophomores rarely saw any game action.
We faced the 1974 season with a great deal of uncertainty. We probably had 70 players at the first preseason practice on August 1, 1974. By the time the season started, we were down to about 35 including just 4 seniors.
The preseason practices were especially tough that year as the coaching staff was determined to avoid a repeat of the finish of the prior season. Fielding a team of inexperienced juniors, we started the 1974 season 0-3. We had now lost 6 games in a row. That equaled the total number of losses from 1959 to 1968. I guess people in Bluefield were wondering if the dynasty had ended.
However, Coach Chmara understood he had a young team. He and the rest of the coaching staff worked even harder to prepare us for the rest of the season. Stubby Currence continued to write articles expressing his belief that our young team would turn it around … and we did.
We won 6 of our last 7 games to finish our second straight season with a 6-4 record. However, the 6-4 record in 1974 felt dramatically different than it did in 1973. We now had a team full of returning seniors for the 1975 season.
Coach Chmara was an excellent teacher of the game. Many things he taught us were applicable in all areas of life. Some of the most important included:
Discipline represented the foundation of Coach Chmara’s coaching style. I think most players would say “extreme discipline”. Everything in our locker room had to be in its correct place…locker chairs, locker keys, shoes, equipment, even the soap in the shower…or we were given “six-thirties” meaning we had to come to school at 6:30 am to run. Practices started at 8:27 am or 3:27 pm and the coaching staff would walk into the film room where we gathered prior to practice precisely on time. If you came into the room after the coaches, you were given a six-thirty. We reported to the school 7 days per week during the season. On Saturdays after a Friday night game, we had to wax any opponent marks off our helmets and shine our game cleats until they passed inspection. Inspection included searching for tiny specks of dirt or grass anywhere on our cleats. Every question was answered with “sir.” It seemed almost too burdensome at times, but there was no question about who was in charge and what was expected of us.
Coach Chmara believed you had to practice with precision in order to execute with precision in a game. We would run the same play over and over repetitively during practice until he was satisfied every player knew exactly what he was supposed to do. He would say that every play is designed to score a touchdown if it is executed perfectly. Then, at film sessions on Sundays after our game, he would point out the reason or reasons each play was not executed perfectly and who was responsible. The obsession with precision even extended to our pre-game warmup. We would practice our pre-game exercises the day before each game, and again on the afternoon of the game, until everyone was counting, clapping and slapping thigh pads in unison. The intent was to “send a message” to our opponents even before the opening kickoff that we were fully prepared.
Coach Chmara often said, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link…don’t be the weak link.” He usually said this during practice to the player who had messed up an assignment. Accordingly, we developed a sense of the importance of teamwork early and often. Each player wanted all the other players to be as good as possible in order to field a strong team. That attitude resulted in strong support for each other both on and off the field.
Stubby Currence provided media coverage and enthusiastic support for the teams and players in our region. The majority of sports writers were located in Charleston and their bias for players in that area were evident.
I believe Stubby personally ensured players in our region were fairly considered in statewide awards such as all-state teams. Stubby also helped generate interest from colleges in local players.
It was reassuring to see Stubby’s confidence in our team in the newspaper on an almost daily basis. I would read his “Into the Press Box” column religiously every morning. I learned a great deal about other players and coaches in our region through Stubby’s writings.
The Stubby Currence Award was given annually to the area athlete of the year and it was a great honor to win that award. Looking back, I still consider it a great honor since I knew so many of the potentially deserving players at Bluefield, Princeton, Graham and other area high schools. To be recognized as one of the best across multiple high schools was an appropriate award to bear Stubby’s name.
Back to the 1975 season … we started 5-0 including defeating the same three teams we had started 0-3 against in 1974. Our season opener was on the road against Stonewall Jackson of Charleston, the defending state champions and a team that had beaten us 26-0 in 1974. After a late goal line stand, we escaped with a 19-12 win giving us confidence for the rest of the season.
We experienced an unexpected 14-6 loss in our sixth game at Welch and then faced our biggest game of the season against Beckley. Beckley had lost only 2 games since 1972 and both losses were by less than 3 points. They had defeated us in both 1973 and 1974. Another loss would kill any chance we had of making the playoffs.
We rebounded from the previous week’s loss with probably the best game of our season and won 50-14. Again, I give credit to Coach Chmara and his staff for making us focus on the task at hand rather than dwelling on our recent loss.
Going into the last week of the season, we were ranked #5 in the state with only 4 playoff spots (the rankings were based on a win-loss and strength of schedule point system). Fortunately, one of the teams ranked ahead of us lost their final game allowing us to make the playoffs as the #4 seed.
So, suppose you fellows ask me what I think. In case you don’t already know, I’ll tell you again. You are going to win this football game and thus wear the crown of West Virginia champions for 1975. It’s a crown you’ve earned a right to wear; it’s due you. It’s something you have already earned the right to prove. I’m sure you’ll do just that. So is every youngster in your school, and all your teachers, and your great coaching staff, and everybody in Bluefield. Don’t waste time asking. Just go out there and do what we all know you are capable of doing.”
By Stubby Currence, “An Open Letter to Our Lads,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Nov. 22, 1975.
We beat the #1 ranked team in the semifinals by a score of 42-0 and were allowed to host the State Championship game in Bluefield for the first time in school history.
On November 22, 1975, we defeated South Charleston 20-7 giving Coach Chmara his first championship as a head coach. The win restored Bluefield’s championship tradition and gave Stubby bragging rights about southern West Virginia football once again!
I want to give a big thanks to Don Jackson for allowing me to share this story. I enjoyed digging through the Daily Telegraph archives about this game, which provided me with a greater appreciation of all that it takes to be a championship team. I’m proud it all came together for Bluefield in 1975.
What are your John Chmara stories or recollections from this storied season? Share them in the comments.
We are celebrating Major League Baseball’s Opening Day! Stubby Currence added so much to the legacy of baseball, especially in Four Seasons Country.
“Sorrell was lured back to Bluefield, West Virginia, one year after his big-league career ended. According to his son, Sorrell and sportswriter Stubby Currence had maintained a close friendship since the pitcher’s coalfield league days in 1924. Currence persuaded Sorrell to pitch for the Bluefield Blue-Grays, recently admitted to the Class D Mountain State League. Down-to-earth and level-headed, Sorrell was a popular, beloved figure in the town of 25,000 residents. He took the mound for the Blue-Grays in his final three years of professional baseball (1938-40), went 26-11, and managed the club in in 1939 and ’40. He announced his retirement after the 1940 season, and 15 years in Organized Ball. In his ten years with the Tigers he was 92-101, logging 1,671⅔ innings with a 4.43 ERA.” -Gregory H. Wolf
I wanted to let you know I’ve started to curate more Stubby information on Pinterest. The pins include news articles and full columns of Stubby’s writings as they existed in print.
The Dad once told me about a cold day in April when he was leaving Bluefield. It was 1981 – the day after his father Stubby’s funeral. He pulled the car into a gas station to fill up before driving his family back 400 miles back to Cincinnati, and he came face-to-face with his pop. Stubby’s photo glanced up at him from the trash can. It was his obituary on the front page of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
He said grief came over him in that moment. It brought it home that Stubby was literally and figuratively yesterday’s news. A family lost its patriarch. A town lost a significant champion. But sons lost their father. A wife lost her partner. Co-workers lost a friend.
Unfortunately, the grief is back. We recently lost The Dad. Like many deaths, it was a long time coming but too sudden, too soon. The Dad loved to tell stories about the sports scene he grew up in. He loved reminiscing about the neighborhood baseball games in which he played while living on Pen Mar. He was devoted to the 1959 Bluefield Beavers Football State Champs until the very end. He put West Virginia Mountaineers stickers on anything that wouldn’t move.
Even though we don’t have The Dad anymore doesn’t mean his stories are done being told, or our stories here are over. Even though the newsprint has long been recycled, the memories are old and dusty, and those we have loved may have gone on, we still have their stories to tell.
And Dad, I’ll miss you.
I love a good sassing, don’t you? I found this gem by Duke Ridgley, the longtime sports editor of the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch and the man credited with nicknaming Marshall University the Thundering Herd.
Ripley-It-Or Not, Virgil (Stubby) Currence, the Beau Brummel of Bluefield and the man who annually picks the All-State High School Basketball Team, is the youngest athlete ever to captain a college baseball team in the United States. You Don’t believe it? Well-l-l, it’s as true as Truth. At the ender age of 16 Mr. C was captain and shortstop of the Davis & Elkins club. That was the year D & E had a perfect season on the diamond. They played nine games and lost all nine of ’em..And for dragging this skeleton out of the closet I have reserved a place for myself behind the No. “8” ball in “Stubby’s” dog house.
Race car driving was a big interest for Stubby. His personal papers included lots of photos of cars zooming on race tracks, plumes of smoke billowing up. So the death of “Smiling Hub” Hunter, a Bluefield race car driver who died in 1924, must have personally affected him, since he put the press clippings in his personal photo album.
Below is the full text of two articles, including Hub’s obituary. Stubby (as Virgil Currence) is listed as one of the many “flower bearers” at the end of the second article.
What I don’t know: Not sure these articles appeared in the Daily Telegraph or the Sunset News or who wrote them, since there are no bylines. It is possible Stubby wrote them—he was reporting by 1924 and it does have his typical writing flair.
Sometimes it’s easy to detach yourself when reading about past tragedies, but loss is evident even reading this today. The writing helps set the scene, but it is much more graphic than what gets printed now.
Below are my favorite excerpts based on the writing. I’m making it my mission to bring back the word “machine” for “car”. That’s just classic, don’t you think?
- “Smiling Hub” Hunter, as his followers on the tracks of the south affectionately called him, went smiling to his death. The last mental picture the thousands have of the race driver is the broad smile as he ate the dust of his brother George’s machine and endeavored to circle him on the corner.
- There were hopes he might not be dead. Upon arriving at St. Luke’s Hospital one glance at the victim by the doctors ended the hopes—and the ambulance proceeded on to Hawkin’s morgue.
- It is probable Hunter had lost to he Grim Reaper before the car stopped.
- It was the first time in the history of the rack a race driver has paid the extreme penalty to the gods of the speed.
- There was a deep touch of sorrow in the hearts of those who had known the young man personally as they stood and witnessed his friends of the fire department and race tracks place the heaving casket in the bed of the old Seagrave and start with him on his last drive. It was a call that had to be answered, but the absence of “Hub” Hunter at the wheel was felt. The truck-bed was lined with deep mourning; two American flags hung from the ladders and on the radiator cap was tied a piece of crape. Hub had always been conspicuous as the pilot of this machine. During the winter months when the old Seagrave would come dashing thought the ice-covered streets in response to a midnight alarm, Hub Hunter was often seen wearing nothing more than his pants and boots and a thin summer undershirt and smiling at the zero weather.
- As the cortege reached the cemetery the remains were carried to the grave, which was at a point which overlooks the beautiful surrounding territory and from which place the cemetery “Monte Vista,” took its name.
- Then the post bugler played taps and the World War veteran entered upon this peaceful sleep. Many of his friends, who had held up well during the service, broke down as the notes of the bugle floated off across the valley and resounded in the echo.
Click “More” to read the full text. Continue reading
The Dad says this was taken when he was in college, circa 1964. It’s summertime because Stubby is in his two-tone summer shoes. I love how the paper is tucked under his arm. This picture was taken in front of their house in Bluefield, W.Va.
I wanted to post this photo as the first entry as a reminder that this journey is all about family. I’ll admit upfront I really don’t know much about sports, which I’m sure Stubby is disappointed about from heaven. But as a fellow writer, I understand how important words really are, and how they can change the world. And even I know sports are about the people, their stories and triumphs.
For this blog, I’m hoping to share some photos and memories of my grandpa but also learn more about my family. So let’s get this Stubby Currence Project started!
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